Feel Better Whilst Backpacking: Why looking after your skin is as important as what you put in your body

This post is sponsored by Mother Dirt, all opinions are my own

When a lot of people think about backpacking, overnighting or thru hiking, they instantly think about feeling really, really dirty. I think there is this idea circling around out there that in order to truly enjoy and get into the wilderness, you have to embrace feeling dirty, end of. It’s actually glorified, and you’ll often see shots on Instagram of people at the end of their hike saying ‘haven’t washed in six days’, like that is a huge achievement. Maybe some people feel more connected this way, and that’s cool, but I don’t. I also know a lot of other hikers that don’t either. There seem to be a lot of mixed messages and feelings out there that if you’re one thing, you can’t be another. If you identify as one thing, you can’t also have elements of others; that you can’t have contradicting beliefs.

Personally, I’ve never enjoyed being dirty. I’m a one to two shower a day kind of girl. I hate feeling sweaty. I hate the feeling of a day’s hike on my skin; covered in sticky sun cream and sweat. Sure, it’s all a ‘memory’ of a great day out in the mountains but it was something I always hated about the sport I’d chosen to base my life around. I remember so many experiences of camping where I’ve just felt horrible in my own skin for days on end whilst I try and forget about the fact that I haven’t been able to wash my skin, hair or face. Putting it bluntly, I just like to feel clean. It just makes me feel great. I know I’m not alone here (Matt for one is also someone who enjoys feeling clean). However, when I spoke to a lot of my friends in the outdoors, particularly those who camp, there was a fairly consistent feeling that you just need to grin and bear it when it comes to embracing the dirtiness that comes with backcountry camping and hiking over a period of days. Your skin is meant to feel chapped, itchy, sweaty, spotty, clogged and sallow. It just doesn’t matter.

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We put so much care and attention into what we put into our bodies, and also how we treat our bodies. We spend so much money on conditioning and training our bodies to do what we want them to do through gym and class memberships. We spend so much money on vitamin supplements to help us go further, not to mention probiotics, macrobiotics and superfoods. We know full well what a difference the right conditioning and taking care of our bodies can do for our health, and what a difference these measures can make to our enjoyment of the outdoors.

So why is our skin any different? For some people I asked, it seemed like an afterthought. You’re there to get on the trail and enjoy the hike, so what if you’re dirty for a few days?

But what if I told you that you may well find you enjoy your hike more when you feel great in your skin? Afterall, don’t most of us hike to feel in the moment and to be taken in and on a journey with the scenery that becomes a part of us as we complete it?

If your hair feels greasy and you’re scratching your painfully annoying scalp every ten minutes, you’re not really concentrating on the moment and enjoying the hike, are you?

If your body feels clammy and greasy all day long and all you can think about is that proper shower you’re going to have when you get home, you’re not really concentrating on the moment and enjoying the hike, are you?

If you’re sweating all day and just feel gross by the end of the day when you’re getting ready to try and get a decent night’s sleep (which we all know is quite an art whilst camping) you’re not really going to be concentrating on the memories of the day gone by and your achievements, fueling you up for the next day, are you?

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We were about to set out on our backpacking trip in the High Sierra this September and the one thing that was playing at the back of my mind (much more than the idea of the potential cold temps, altitude and elevation gains and losses) was the question, how will I feel comfortable in my skin without washing for four days in a row, twice? I’d been dreaming about these mountains and planning this trip for months. It was also a commission, where we’d be working long hours, with hard days of hiking in the mountains. We’d also be at high altitudes where our bodies would already be under stress and I wanted to feel good! So, it was music to my ears when we partnered with Mother Dirt, a brand we’ve heard great things about for a while now to test out their biome-friendly, natural skincare products out on the trail.

Matt and I have been trying to move towards finding something that works for us both to feel clean in the outdoors for some time. For us both, the thing that had been a problem had been trying to find products that are biodegradable and natural whilst not throwing a ton of harsh chemicals all over our skin. I’ve got to say, even though some of the products we’ve tried have said they are natural and biodegradable, I’m not a great fan of the idea of disposing of some of the run-off water from these when you look at the back of the packaging and take in the amount of ingredients that are contained. If you’re a keen outdoors lover, or even someone new to backpacking and backcountry hiking, you’ll be aware of Leave No Trace. With regards to washing and using water, alwayscarry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes to use and throw this out the same distance away also.

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Mother Dirt set us off on our trip with five of their products, The AO+ Mist, Body Wash, Shampoo, Face & Body Cleanser and Moisturizer. As well as being natural, Mother Dirt’s products work to restore and maintain the good bacteria on the skin. Just like our insides rely on probiotics and good bacteria, our skin relies on the same to keep us healthy. What I really loved was when I found out that Mother Dirt’s research for their products focuses on the type of bacteria that is found naturally in soil. It felt very fitting to be bringing back to nature, products that come from our home already. When we use harsh chemicals on our skin, we remove the bacteria, called Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria (AOB) that was there to start with. Mother Dirt’s products look to restore this balance in the skin’s microbiome. Your skin microbiome ishome to billions of friendly living microorganisms. It’s kind of like an eco-system that lives on the skin that’s working to help keep it healthy and in good condition.When you do something as physically exertive as hiking, you’re sweating and removing precious minerals from your skin. A lot of people use rehydration tablets to help replenish the vitamins and minerals they’ve lost in their water, so why do we forget about our skin, like it isn’t important? I loved the idea that my skin could feel just as good on the trail as it could feel when I had everything I needed with me at home.

One concern for a lot of hikers on longer trips is weight, and this is one of the main reasons why a lot of hikers will choose to leave skincare in the bathroom. I was initially concerned by this, having to already fit a huge bear can, massive sleeping bag and everything else I needed into my pack, but I loved the fact that Mother Dirt’s products were quite small but mighty. The fact that you need such a small amount of the products to see them work to their full potential means that if you’re really stuck for space, you could swap some of the bottles for small travel size bottles you may already have at home. Personally, I didn’t mind the weight they added to my pack. I think we’ve got to start looking at what we class as ‘essential’ because I can say from my experience that some of the things in my pack that I used to think were essential, weren’t! The Sierra was plentifully stocked with water along the trail in the form of lakes (so many lakes!) and streams and the idea of using these products whilst backpacking with fresh water (of course, away from the water source) felt exciting. I wondered how this would work so well on trails in the desert, where water sources might not be so plentiful, and after using the products for a while, can really say they do not need a huge amount of water to be used to their greatest potential, meaning that the water you’re conserving can be used sparingly to keep yourself feeling clean and healthy skin wise too.

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One of my absolute favorite products was the AO+ Mist. I’ve come to terms with the idea that I sweat quite a lot when hiking and I really do not enjoy how it feels on my skin. When sprayed directly on the skin, the AO+ Mist seemed to really stop my sweat from being such a problem. I found I was using it sparingly every morning on areas that would traditionally sweat a lot (such as armpits – instead of traditional deodorant, face, arms and legs) and by the end of the day, I found that firstly I hadn’t missed that harsh deodorant because I didn’t smell. I was also really amazed by just how much less I was sweating on my arms. Due to harsh UV and the fact that it was pretty hot, my arms were often exposed. Using a high factor sunscreen is incredibly important, but it also really seems to clog my pores, and this seems to lead to a really greasy, sweaty feeling on my skin. I was still aware of the sun cream by the end of the day, but not as much. I often find that because I have slightly oily skin, sun cream can give me spots, especially on my face. After this trip, my skin was clear. The moisturizer was incredible too. We found that throughout this hike, we were going between cold and hot conditions and this would normally play havoc with my skin – making it dry and painful to be in. The incredibly nourishing moisturizer helped to make my skin feel rebalanced and comfortable again and because it was multi-purpose it was suitable to use on both my face and body – meaning that the dependence on different products for different areas was removed and inside a small package too. What I absolutely loved about the shampoo, body wash and facial cleanser was just how little I needed to use to feel fantastic – this made a massive difference to me so I was able to conserve water, but also didn’t have to spend so much time wet when it was still a little cold in the mornings or evenings. My skin felt healthy and my hair was shiny (and more importantly not as itchy from all the sweat of the day). The best thing about the shampoo is that it improved the amount of time needed in-between washes, meaning that my hair felt great for longer without needing to keep washing (and also meant that in terms of weight, I needed to carry less).

It’s kind of crazy to think how little we can come to regard our skin whilst we’re on the trail, but at the end of the hike I realized I’d spent my time feeling healthy in my skin, without skin irritations. Usually I’d feel sweaty, disgusting, sometimes feeling under the weather and a little low in mood, itchy, smelly and like I just wanted to hide at the end of a multi-day hike. I came back from this hike feeling really good. I felt clean, I felt like my skin was moisturized.

I’m going to be taking much better care of my skin on the trail from now on and Mother Dirt is certainly going to be seeing some miles, lovingly from my pack.